Why this major legal convention could wreak havoc on Britain’s Brexit

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The UK may have left the European Union at the beginning of 2020 but this has stopped a myriad of issues regarding how the UK and EU will work together in the future. One major source of contention is the Lugano Convention, a major international legal framework, which the UK dropped out when it left the bloc.

The Lugano Convention was established in 2007 and is an international treaty negotiated by the EU.

Its purpose is to provide legal clarity and safeguarding across borders, making litigation more accessible between countries.

The convention covers all EU states as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland – and the UK used to be a part of this as well.

But the EU has now rejected the UK’s application to join the Lugano Convention, which could negatively affect millions of British citizens, and is particularly important for businesses.

In the commission’s official statement, it said: “The Commission takes the view that the European Union should not give its consent to the accession of the United Kingdom to the 2007 Lugano Convention.

“For the European Union, the Lugano Convention is a flanking measure of the internal market and relates to the EU-EFTA/EEA context.

“In relation to all other third countries the consistent policy of the European Union is to promote cooperation within the framework of the multilateral Hague Conventions.

“The United Kingdom is a third country without a special link to the internal market. Therefore, there is no reason for the European Union to depart from its general approach in relation to the United Kingdom.

“Consequently, the Hague Conventions should provide the framework for future cooperation between the European Union and the United Kingdom in the field of civil judicial cooperation.”

The decision, unless reversed, could have a big effect on the UK, as it means reverting to the national laws of each country to decide which court has jurisdiction over a legal issue.

This then means any judgements made in one country may not be recognised in another and can open the door for parties on either side to take advantage of different legal systems.

It can also push taking legal action beyond the reach of ordinary people and businesses – with only the richest being able to afford extortionate legal fees.

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This is tricky for Boris Johnson, both politically and economically.

According to the Law Society, legal services added nearly £60 billion to the UK economy in 2018, while in 2017 exports of legal services hit £5 billion.

Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general for England and Wales, says his concern is the long-term “viability of London as a centre for dispute resolution.”

He said the longer the situation continues, “the more potentially damaging it may become because there’s no doubt that the UK when it was in the EU, was seen as the place of dispute resolution of choice for EU litigation of every conceivable kind.”

Over time, more difficulties could arise, which would undermine confidence in the British legal system.

However, Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at the City of London Corporation, thinks those that will suffer the most will be individuals seeking justice as consumers or in their personal lives.

She said: “I’d be more concerned about the implications for ordinary people, and smaller businesses operating cross border.

“It’s the person who’s buying something across borders or considering how to divorce their partner across borders who’s going to find that they don’t have access to this really pragmatic route to clarify their legal situation.”

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